Singur: Six years later

Tata Motors plant in Singur, West Bengal was supposed to “revolutionise the automobile industry in India” and “mark a watershed in the global automobile industry.” So said Ravi Kant, Managing Director of Tata Motors. The protest over land acquisition for the planned factory brought down 34-year old Left Front regime and propelled Mamta Banerjee to the post of the Chief Minister. Six years later, away from the headlines what has happened in Singur? First on the three-part series on Singur

By Zaidul Haque,

Singur/Kolkata: Land acquisition controversy surrounding then proposed, and virtually cancelled, Tata Nano project in Singur is a burning issue in West Bengal, even six years after it had first started.

The state government had acquired 997.11 acres land in Singur Block of Hooghly District in May, 2006 under the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for setting up a small car project By TATA group.

The green land of singur, just behind the Tata Project boundary wall.

Tatas ceremonially initiated the construction of the plant on January 21, 2007 in 600 acres with another 400 kept aside for ancillary production. Land from about 13,000 landowners had been acquired for the plant but only about 2,200 of them, with about 400 acres between them, refused to accept compensation. The then opposition leader, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress extended her support to those farmers against land acquisition that many feel was her ticket to power in the state.

Owing to immense resistance, the Tata Group announced on October 3, 2008 that they are pulling out of Singur due to the political unrest and agitation. After six years, the fate of Singur remains hanging, awaiting honorable court ‘s decision.

From 2006 to 2012, after 6 years, what has changed for farmers in Singur and what has the present Chief Minister done for the people, with whose support she came to power. visited the ground zero and talked to villagers there, including village leaders.

A farmer of singur in front of Khaserverri Primary School near by the Singur project.

Most of those unwilling farmers too are now fed up with the long dragging issue and state of suspension. They hope that the Tata Group and the state government come to some kind of understanding to resolve the matter.

Poor villagers are now in a fix, and are uncertain about future prospects.

The residence of Gram Panchayet Pradhan of Beraberi of Singur Dudh Kumar Dhara elected on Trinamul Congress Party ticket lives just next to the still existing boundary of the planned factory. He agreed that the land prices in the locality have now gone up manifold compared to 2006. He also expressed his gratitude on state government’s announcement of allowance of Rs. 2000 per month and free rice.

Dudh Kumar Dhara, Gram Panchayet Pradhan of Beraberi in Singur.

The boundary wall of the factory is still guarded by police forces day and night. Dhara told TCN that it will be very difficult for farmers to start farming on the land even after they get it back, as they are covered with sand, clay, cement and other building materials, as work had already begun on those land. He supported the decisions taken by WB CM Mamata Banerjee.

Many villagers, however, now appear disenchanted. In front of Khaser Veri Primary school TCN talked to young Nabakumar Dhara. He appeared critical of the ‘inept handling’ of the whole affair by the new CM, after she came to power and hoped that the state government would come to some kind of understanding with the Tata Group to facilitate setting up of factory there. He argued that local youths would get employment opportunities if such a factory comes up. He feels that the long dragging issue has only delayed the development projects in the locality.

Many villagers also rejected Mamata Banerjee’s announcement of rice and allowance as nothing more than ‘political gimmick.’ Uncertainties surrounding compensation, due to long pending cases, are unsettling many farmers who now are ready for some mutual understanding with Tatas.

Farmers working in field, just beside the Tata Project boundary wall in Singur.

Tata’s Nano factory was originally intended to be the flagship project of the new wave of reforms promoted by former WB CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Singur Block is basically farmland and located beside the Durgapur expressway near the Ratanpur crossing with NH-1, distance Nearby 40 Km from Kolkata. The six mouzas acquired for the Tata project, Gopalnagar, Beraberi, Bajemelia, Khaserbheri, Singherberi and Joymolla. Chakkalikaburi village of Beraberi and Joymolla villages have sizeable Muslim population.

Ratan Tata had announced to pull out the Tata Project from Singur after meeting with then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on October 3, 2008.

The Tata Project in Singur.

The Mamata Banerjee led Trinamul Congress Government came to power after the State Assembly Election held in 2011.

On May 29, 2011 at her first Cabinet Meeting CM Mamata Banerjee had announced to return 400 acres of Singur land to the farmers and passed an ordinance to this effect and on June 13, 2011 the state assembly passed the Singur Bill to return the land. However, after the Tata Group moved to the court, a stay order was granted.

On June 22 this year, Division Bench of the Honourable Calcutta High Court declared the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 as illegal and unconstitutional.

The Trinamul led West Bengal Government has approached the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict and on August 24 this year. The highest court of the country stayed the High Court judgment.

Trinamul Congress official says, if they are defeated in the Supreme Court, West Bengal Government will introduce a new bill on Singur to protect the unwilling farmers.